I want to talk about queer theory this week. It’s on my mind all the time since I go to Smith, but also because I’m taking a SWG class this semester. Much of queer theory derives from the idea that there is no inherent, or “natural” quality in a person that causes them to identify to a certain way of life/being immediately at birth, a mode/representation that they will continue to identify with throughout their lives. The theory presents the idea that identity is fluid and always changing. As the semester progressed and I reached deeper levels of understanding with queer theory, I was simultaneously learning about the concepts of emptiness, interdependence (“no self”, “mind only”, etc) that are so fundamental to Buddhism. I began to draw comparisons between the two–at the root of it, they mirror each other in a lot of ways. Consider this quote from a recent reading I had in my SWG class about queer feminism:
“Feminists of the digital age must refuse the nostalgic discourse of authentic selves, of natural bodies, of fixed communities and instead attend to the ‘structures and relations that produce different kinds of subjects in position with different kinds of technologies’” (Loza).
“[P]ossession of vaginas in and of themselves are neither what define women nor what bond women to each other. Shared experiences of the world, which include experiences of race, sexuality, (dis)ability, economic class, any number of nuanced vulnerabilities… is what bonds women to each other” (Loza quoting Mia McKenzie).
We see here the Buddhist idea that there is no intrinsic characteristic of a fixed, absolute “self” (essence) that creates a definitive identity of an individual, combined with the queer idea that there is no inherent, necessary characteristic underneath personhood that codes them as either gender; we must let go of characteristics of the self and body that we have held onto so tightly in order to code us into a conventional, binary definition of gender. The perceived identities of people, and in Loza/McKenzie’s case women as a gender, arise interdependently through a chain of lived experiences. Are these queer ideas not reminiscent of the human impulse of attachment and the ultimate truth of interdependence/emptiness/essencelessness of all objects and beings?! Basically, we are attached to gender. We perceive gender as a kind of conventional truth, whereas the ultimate truth is that gender is empty of any real qualities.
I find this connection to be extremely exciting. Think about it–here we have the age-old ideas of Buddhism being combined and echoed through a extremely new, current, and revolutionary theories on identity. Not only does queer theory’s subconscious application of Buddhist ideas and values validate the timeless/continual logic of Buddhist thought (making it a more innately contemporary religion than religions like Christianity), but it also equally validates the utility and versatility of queer theory in many facets of experience, not limited to social/sexual identity but also religious identity. Understanding the relationship between the two has the potential to be remarkably powerful, and I hope it is one that doesn’t go unnoticed by intellectuals and academics–so far, I haven’t found many articles or journals about their similarities. (In fact, I just read that one of the people writing about it died before he could finish it!) Perhaps that means that I’ll have to be the Queer Buddhist studies pioneer.
Loza, Susana. “Hashtag Feminism, #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen, and the Other #FemFuture – Ada: A Journal of Gender, New Media, and Technology.” Ada A Journal of Gender New Media and Technology. N.p., 07 July 2014. Web. 19 Apr. 2015.